Apple’s new 15 inch MacBook Pro has a lot going for it. The last version was both popular and well respected – and the new model looks to build on its strengths. However, right from picking it up, you can see, and feel, that this version is quite different to the last one. For a start, it’s slimmer, sleeker and, apparently, stronger. Lifting the lid also reveals a raft of tweaks and new technologies, although one constant between the two versions is Apple’s usual high standards of industrial design.
When opening the screen lid, you’ll notice the first of the design changes. Apple has dumped the latch mechanism so there’s no need to press a button to release the lid; it now stays closed on its own with the help of a magnet. The absence of the latch simplifies the lines of the casing, which is also an area of considerable development. Called ‘Unibody’, and created with the help of new manufacturing processes, the MacBook Pro’s case is cut from a single piece of aluminium. This not only looks fantastic, it’s considerably stronger and more durable. Gone are the clumsy plastic edges that rimmed the display and keyboard face of the old model. Now these same edges cut clean lines with smooth, unbroken brushed aluminium.
Looking at the display, you’ll notice that the glass covering the screen has been extended out to the edges of the MacBook Pro’s lid. Apart from giving the entire inside of the lid a smooth glassy look, this extra material increases tensional rigidity, and helps reduce excessive screen flex, which is a problem on many notebooks.
In addition to the glass cover, there are new things afoot with the screen itself. For a start, the 15-inch MacBook Pro sports new LED backlights, rather than the older fluorescent tube type. This helps create a purer, more consistent light source, and consumes less power as well. The MacBook Pro’s display resolution stays the same at 1440 x 900, and this model comes with the ‘glossy’ screen coating.
While the display is pin-sharp and bright, the screen glare can be distracting in bright environments – unfortunately, only the new 17-inch MacBook Pro has an anti-glare coating option.
In terms of size, when you’ve closed the screen lid, the unit measures a svelte 2.4cm thick but actually feels even thinner because the notebook tapers inwards as it reaches the edges. All up, it’s a classy little number, and something you’ll be proud to whip out onto the boardroom table.
Other notable changes include the appearance of the new Multi-Touch trackpad. Apple ruffled a few feathers when this was recently launched on the updated ‘silver’ MacBook because the Multi-Touch pad has no mouse button; the entire pad is now spring-mounted and clickable. Not having a button at your thumb’s disposal takes a little getting used to, but the Multi-Touch technology adds new ways of manipulating your desktop. Make a ‘pinch’ motion with your fingers to zoom-in or out of a photo.
Wipe two fingers up or down to scroll your browser, wipe three fingers across to navigate between photos and wipe four fingers up or down to remove all open windows and expose your desktop.
Also, as the Mulit-Touch has 39 percent more surface area than the old trackpad, this means more room to manipulate photos, browse web pages or just move about your display. Ultimately, the Multi-Touch adds more than it takes away, and is really not all that difficult to learn with a bit of practice. It’s a good thing.
The layout of the connector ports has also been simplified, and now all of the connections, plus the battery meter, are located along the left-hand edge. This leaves the right edge free for the slot-loading DVD recorder/player. While this drive handles just about any disc type that you can throw at it, including DL (Dual Layer) recordables, there is still no Blu-ray option. This is a surprise, as Apple tends to lead with the latest technologies. Now that HD-DVD is well and truly gone, a Blu-ray option may be on the cards soon.
On the connectivity front, Apple has replaces its DVI connector with the new Mini DisplayPort. This is about a quarter of the size of a DVI connector so it leaves more room for other connections. However, this also means that you’ll need to shell out $45 to get a Mini DisplayPort to DVI or VGA adaptor when plugging into current-generation monitors. Only the 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display supports the new connector so far, and if you have one of these, it works a treat.
The 15 inch MacBook Pro now only has a plug for the faster Firewire 800 connection, which might be an issue if you have devices that use the slower Firewire 400 connector. Otherwise, the clever MagSafe power plug is still present, and should help protect your Mac from being knocked off a desk if someone trips over the power cable.
Flip the unit over and you’ll see a single latch to release the battery cover. Inside is a very accessible hard disk drive, making replacements easy, and the battery itself. Upgrading the RAM, on the other hand, will mean removing a few screws. While the new 17-inch MacBook Pro has an integrated battery (offering up to 8 hours of battery life), the 15-incher has a removable unit. This is ideal for lengthy road trips away from power plugs because you can take a couple of charged batteries and swap them out when empty.
With a maximum charge of 5 hours, the little MacBook Pro is quite practical, and, although it won’t last a flight to LA, should be enough to get the job done. I was averaging around four hours of charge with some DVD use and being constantly connected to a WiFi network. Battery life will vary with different types of scenarios; with intensive 3D graphics design, rendering or video editing, the MacBook Pro will swap to its built-in high-performance graphics engine, which uses up more juice than normal video processing.
In terms of processing power, you can spec up to a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip, with an entry point of 2.4GHz. The 15-inch MacBook Pro can support 4GB of memory but it’s a shame it can’t handle 8GB like the new 17-incher. Otherwise, you have a choice of 250 – 320GB hard disks, and there’s a 7200rpm option should you want to increase disk responsiveness, or a solid state 128GB drive but this is incredibly expensive.
Also, it’s good to know that when you purchase a new generation MacBook Pro you’re doing something for the environment. MacBook LED displays are now mercury and arsenic free, and you can find out more about Apple’s green initiatives here: <http://www.apple.com/au/macbookpro/environment.html>
There’s little doubt that the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a great little machine. It has gorgeous looks, brilliant performance and benefits from cutting edge technology and manufacturing processes. Also, many will prefer Apple’s Leopard operating system to Microsoft’s troubled Windows Vista.
However, as with premium products, you end up paying more. While not exorbitant, prices start around $3,199, and, depending on the specification, top out beyond $4,000.
When it comes down to it, if you’re a digital media professional, graphic artist or just want a powerful laptop in a top-notch package, it’s difficult to walk past this beauty. Add a 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display to the mix and you’ll have the best of both worlds – stylish portability and a big-screen to boot.